Palmer business owners, residents discuss behavioral issues, loitering downtown

The special meeting was led by Palmer City Council Member Pamela Melin
The special meeting was led by Palmer City Council Member Pamela Melin
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 7:10 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - A recent uptick of what people in the city of Palmer are calling “acute vagrancy” downtown prompted the city council to host a public discussion on the issue. On Friday, Palmer City Council members were joined by the Palmer Police Department, business owners, residents, and other community leaders in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District board room.

The forum was led by Palmer City Council Member Pamela Melin and focused on testimonies of personal experience before pivoting to potential solutions.

“It’s starting to impact commerce, it’s starting to impact the businesses and their experiences — as well as the uptick that we’re starting to see in people migrating out to Palmer,” Melin said. “We realized that we have a lack of resources. A lot of us didn’t know who to connect them with or how to solve for this issue.”

Business owners like Wes Artz who owns the Palmer Bar downtown, have been growing frustrated by the transient individuals yelling at pedestrians, panhandling, and leaving used needles in public areas. It’s a problem Artz said has grown exponentially since the closing of a campground in Anchorage.

“Since they closed down Bicentennial Park in Anchorage it’s gotten really bad,” Artz said. “More than what the community can handle for our support groups that are out here.”

In attendance was Palmer Chief of Police Dwayne Shelton, who spoke publicly about nine specific individuals who have been responsible for over 1,000 calls to the police department since January 2021.

“At least twice a day we’re dealing with vagrancy in some sort of fashion,” Shelton said at the meeting.

Though the meeting didn’t offer any immediate solutions to the seemingly growing problem, Melin did consider the conversation a productive one.

“We expected a little bit of vitriol, maybe a little bit of division — but it wasn’t, it was really nice,” Melin stated. “I think they came in and understood we’re looking for solutions, we want to help solve this issue together.”